Do podcasts that “game the system” have the same advertisers as mainstream podcasts?

Magellan tracks advertisers on the top podcasts. Learn more about how we help brands discover podcasts to advertise on and help publishers grow revenue.

If you keep up with news in the podcast space, you might have heard some buzz in recent weeks about podcasts “gaming the system” to make it to the top ranks in iTunes charts. A recent article from Chartable shows the relationships (using iTunes’ “listeners also subscribed to” data) between podcasts that were in the iTunes Top 50 at the time of their writing. They identified four clusters of podcasts that were related to one another.

Magellan tracks all advertisements on the top podcasts. After reading the Chartable article, we were curious about the differences between the ads across the clusters.

First, some background.

We don’t know exactly how iTunes rankings are calculated, but the Chartable piece summed up what is known:

Though only Apple knows exactly how these charts work, Rob Walch from Libsyn has said that they are “100% about the total number of new subscribers in the past 7 days, with a weighted average for the last 24, 48, and 72 hours.” [2]

Chartable’s main cluster included podcasts that were normally in the Top 50. The other three clusters contained podcasts that may use questionable methods to achieve their iTunes rankings (we’ll refer to them collectively as “the questionable clusters”).

So, how do the numbers of ads compare from one cluster to the next?

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We analyzed every episode we had processed from the podcasts in each cluster since the beginning of September. The main cluster averaged 2.7 ads per episode. That broke down to 0.8 pre-roll ads, 1.5 mid-roll ads, and 0.5 post-roll ads.

Each other cluster had less than half the ads per episode, on average, of the main cluster. Cluster 1 averaged 1.3 ads per episode. Again, mid-rolls made up the heaviest portion of that — at 0.8. Cluster 2 averaged .7 ads per episode, and Cluster 3 averaged 1.1.

Podcasts in the “main” cluster have more mainstream advertisers.

The lineup of advertisers varies from one cluster to the next. Since the beginning of September, we picked up ads for 481 different advertisers on the podcasts in this analysis. Nearly 80% of those advertisers (378) were only on the main cluster. About 14% advertised only on the questionable clusters, and 7% advertised on both.

We saw some big names advertise on podcasts across clusters — SeatGeek, TrueCar, Providence St. Joseph Health, Geico, and FanDuel, to name a few. Some sports related podcasts on the questionable clusters — likely niche podcasts — explain several of those names.

Most of the advertisers who advertise only on the questionable clusters are smaller or more niche brands. These include Rico’s Pizzeria (a local pizzeria in Sarasota, FL), a Texas based lawfirm, and a hunting gear company that has advertised on only one podcast.

The main cluster includes ads from smaller, more niche brands. But the main cluster also contains ads from Google, IBM, MailChimp, Postmates, 23andMe, and countless other well known names that range from startups to some of the world’s biggest companies.

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